It’s Friday, Day 13 of the Haru Basho, and the tension keeps racheting up. Yokozuna Kisenosato remains undefeated atop the leaderboard, but yesterday both M10 Tochiozan and sekiwake Takayasu suffered their second losses, putting them out of the immediate race for the yusho [tournament championship], and leaving just ozeki Terunofuji one win behind the leader. And with both Kisenosato and Terunofuji looking so solid, the idea that both of them would slip up here in the final weekend and give the two-loss rikishi a chance to get back in the mix seems like an extreme longshot. But then, we’ve already seen a bunch of highly unlikely occurences so far this tournament . . . so there’s no telling what will happen next.
An interesting thing happened for the first time this basho yesterday, Kisenosato fell. He didn’t lose, but he did physically fall to the clay at the tail end of his win over M4 Arawashi. It hadn’t struck me until I was watching it that ALL of his previous twelve wins were so dominant that NONE of his opponents have forced him to leave his feet, even for a moment. I hope that Kisenosato will be able to keep his energy high over the next three days, because he’s facing yokozuna Harumafuji today, and the yokozuna Kakuryu and ozeki Terunofuji (probably in that order) . . . all great opponents who will require all of the shin-yokozuna’s skill and power to overcome.
Terunofuji is looking, if anything, like he’s getting stronger here in the final days of the basho. Both of his last two wins, over M5 Endo and M4 Arawashi, were high-powered slugfests, and the ozeki finished them looking energized and ready for more. His remaining matches will be against yokozuna Kakuryu, sekiwake Kotoshogiku, and yokozuna and yusho-leadeer Kisenosato. Given the way Terunofuji is fighting, I think there’s a better than even chance that he’ll win the first two. That would leave the Day 15 pairing against Kisenosato as the one the would decide the yusho . . . and isn’t that how we WANT our tournaments to end?
Things are not going so well in the other story I’ve been covering all basho. Yesterday sekiwake Kotoshogiku lost his match against M3 Takrafuji, dropping his record to 7–5. Now, if all Kotoshogiku was trying for was a kachi-koshi[majority of wins], that wouldn’t be so bad . . . he still has three matches and would only need one more win. But in order to succeed in his quest to reverse his January demotion and regain the rank of ozeki, he must get TEN wins . . . which means he must now win EVERY match remaining on his schedule,which is likely to be komusubi Shodai today, ozeki Terunofuji tomorrow, and probably one of the M4 rikishi on Sunday—Yoshikaze or Arawashi. No matter how you slice it, though, winning all three of these matches is NOT a very likely scenario.
Add on top of that all the rank-and-file rikishi who are battling to reach kachi-koshi (or, in the more dire situations, to stave off make-koshi [majority of losses]) and you’ve got what should be the start of a full weekend of high-energy, high-drama sumo! So let’s get to today’s matches!
Sekiwake Kotoshogiku (7–5) vs. komusubi Shodai (4–8)—This is it for Kotoshogiku. If he wants to get his ozeki ranking back, he has to win ALL of his remaining matches. Today it’s Shodai, who has a lackluster record, already reaching make-koshi, but has fought strong the whole way through. Somehow, Kotoshogiku has to shake off the last two days’ losses and get himself back on a winning track, otherwise all we’ll be talking about is whether or not he’ll announce his retirement before or after the end of the basho. (5:55)
M4 Yoshikaze (7–5) vs. sekiwake Takayasu (10–2)—Like Kotoshogiku, Takayasu has to find a way to shake off the mental effects of losing two days in a row. He’s almost certainly out of the running for the yusho, but he IS still building toward a hopeful ozeki promotion if he can perform well in May’s Natsu Basho. He needs at least one more win to stay on pace . . . and it would do a world of good mentally to finish strong. (6:25)
Ozeki Terunofuji (11–1) vs. yokozuna Kakuryu (8–4)—All basho long, Terunofuji has been strutting around, crushing foes, and acting like a yokozuna. Well, beginning today he gets to actually fight against yokozuna. Kakuryu is the easiest of the targets, but still a formidable opponent. Terunofuji showed himself susceptible to a strong tachi-ai [initial charge] and a skillful follow-up belt attack when he lost to Takayasu on Day 6. but he should be prepared for that sort of thing from Kakuryu. (7:45)
Yokozuna Harumafuji (9–3) vs. yokozuna Kisenosato (12–0)—I just don’t know what to think about Harumafuji. Earlier this week he looked like his ankles were killing him and that he didn’t have enough strength left to mount his usual powerful tachi-ai charges, but the last few days that’s just what he’s done. But does he have enough energy to handle an opponent as big, strong, and skilled as Kisenosato? Particularly the unflappable, undefeated version of Kisenosato that he’s going to face today? And for his part, can Kisenosato maintain his focus? (8:50)